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Africa's Largest Hub for Entrepreneurship Now Open in Kigali


Africa’s Largest Hub for Entrepreneurship Now Open in Kigali

Head photo: Joris Cyizere, strategy lead for the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revoluion – Rwanda, stands outside Norrsken House. Photo by IEEE Entrepreneurship.

Located in the heart of Kigali, the newly opened Norrsken House is serving as a tech incubation hub for Rwanda’s entrepreneurs. Created by the Norrsken Foundation, it’s the organization’s first incubator outside of Europe, and its first on the African continent. At a cost of US $120 million, and spanning 4,400 sq. m., the campus is located on the site of an old schoolhouse, and offers dedicated industry-specific start-up areas, including AI, health tech, and more.

In its entirety, the campus consists of four buildings; three renovated classroom blocks of the former École Belge and one newly constructed building, the main Norrsken House. There is also an outdoor pergola structure, as well as ample outdoor meeting space, lush gardens, and tucked away spaces for working or just being inspired.

The main building houses, among other things, the Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution – Rwanda, a partnership of WEF and the Rwandan government. It’s one of two locations for the organization, which calls itself a “global platform focused on inclusive technology governance and responsible digital transformation.” The other is in South Africa.

“The Centre advises the government on policies around emerging technologies,” Joris Cyizere, a strategy lead for the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution – Rwanda, told IEEE Entrepreneurship during a recent tour of Norrsken Kigali. “Each hub focuses on an important topic for that country; the Rwanda hub focuses on AI.” The government of Rwanda recently passed a National AI policy, following its landmark legislation last year on the Protection of Personal Data and Privacy, a policy heavily influenced by Estonia’s data privacy initiatives.

Former classroom blocks now serve as incubation hubs on the Norrsken campus in Kigali. Photo by IEEE Entrepreneurship.

Starting with the premise that entrepreneurial workspace should be a catalyst for rapid, just and inclusive transformation that benefits the local community, the region, and society at large, the Norrsken Foundation partnered with the MASS Design Group to create a campus for each stage of a start-up’s journey. Norrsken Kigali preserves the existing, historic site of the former school, and prioritizes the existing architecture and landscape, serving as the first adaptive reuse project in the region.

Cyizere says this focus on sustainability serves as a reminder to the centre’s occupants of its mission. “How can we best use AI to create value for Rwanda, including good for the environment?” Joris asks.

Norrsken House was designed with a circular economy approach, and wherever possible, existing materials were reconstructed and reused in fixtures and furnishings, benches, walls, and walkways. The pergola was built from steel salvaged from one of the buildings. A solar photovoltaic system adorns the roof, and all stormwater is harvested for landscaping and other non-potable needs, like flushing toilets. Temperature control and ventilation is aided by clay-shaded façades. A thermal labyrinth further reduces energy demands.

Lush gardens and sustainable landscape architecture offer ample meeting, working, and relaxing space. Photo by IEEE Entrepreneurship.

“We are grateful for Norrsken’s partnership over the last four and a half years, to bring their vision of a Norrsken House to Rwanda, our home,” says MASS Principal, Anton Larsen. “Norrsken Kigali House is catalyzing a systemic change around entrepreneurship in East Africa. MASS is thrilled to apply that same innovative spirit to apply adaptive design and engineering solutions for their new space, expanding the view of what’s possible for urban development.”

Norrsken Kigali offers co-working, meeting, and hot-desking space for members and non-members. Contact them directly for more information and rates.